Christmas is for the birds…

Christmas is for the birds…. too!  LOL!  It’s cold outside and the birds and animals could use a holiday treat as much as the rest of us.  Here is a great DIY project you can do as a family and enjoy the birds as they come to eat.  

INGREDIENTS: 

  • 2.5 cups Birdseed 
  • 2 Packages Unflavoured Gelatin (2 Tablespoons total)
  • 2 Tablespoons Corn Syrup
  • 1 cup Water
  • Cookie Cutters (about 12 small ones are perfect.  Using larger ones will cause the ornament to break from the weight)
  • Drinking Straws, cut into 2″ long pieces (Enough to have one in each ornament)
  • Twine

INSTRUCTIONS: 

  1. First, follow the instructions on the packet of Gelatin. If you are going to use two packets of gelatin, add 1/2 cup of cold water into a bowl, then pour the two packets of gelatin on top of the water.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of boiling water to the mixture and stirred it until it was dissolved. (Making sure the gelatin is completely dissolved is important.  Use the microwave if needed.
  3. Once the gelatin is dissolved, add the corn syrup and stirred until it is dissolved as well.  
  4. Finally, add the birdseed to the gelatin mixture.
  5. It will be a little watery at first.  Place place the bowl in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or so, or until it firms up enough that the liquid won’t seep out from under the cookie cutters.
  6. Set your cookie cutters out onto a wax paper or parchment lined baking sheet.
  7. Spoon the mixture into each of the cookie cutters, and press it down firmly so that the cookie cutter is completely filled.  Fill the cookie cutters to the very top and press into the shape to ensure a complete fill with no gaps. 
  8. Next, cut your drinking straws into 2″ long pieces. Press a straw into the birdseed (before it’s set) so that you have a nice neat hole for the twine to go through afterwards.  Be sure to place the straw a good distance from the edge to make sure the twine doesn’t break thru from the weight of the ornament.  
  9. Once you’ve added the straws, place the ornaments in the refrigerator overnight to solidify. The next day, gently pull the edges of the cookie cutter away from the shape to help separate things, then gently push out the shape.
  10. Remove the straws, thread some twine through the holes and tie a knot.

When your ornament is complete, hang them in your trees outside and watch the birds gather.  Be sure to hang your ornaments close to other branches so the birds can perch while eating.  

You can refrigerate them or freeze them if not using right away. They last up to 1 years in freezer.  You can also do this fun DIY project at other times of the year.  Instead of Christmas cookie cutter ornaments, use a shamrock for St. Patrick’s day, egg shaped for Easter, Hearts for valentine’s day.  The possibilities are endless! 

A few notes about this a project so you are not disappointed in the outcome:

  1. let the mold dry for at least a day before attempting to hang on the twine.
  2. Be sure to hang these in cooler weather, as the Florida heat will cause the gelatin to melt and your ornament to fall.
  3. If you are doing this project throughout the year, try substituting or adding peanut butter to your recipe.  
  4. Be sure to place the hole for the twine far enough away from the edge so it better disperses the weight and doesn’t break through the edge of the ornament.  

Have you heard of the “White Elephant”?

This time of year we all usually have lots of holiday parties to attend for our places of employment, friends and family.  More than likely you have come to know the “White Elephant” gift exchange.  It is also referred to as the “Yankee Swap” or “Dirty Santa”.  There are tons of versions of this game / gift swap, but here are the simple rules:

  1. Each player brings one wrapped gift to contribute to a common pool – 
    The organizer should provide information on what type of gift people should bring. There can be a theme for the gifts, a monetary limit for the amount or no rules at all.  
  2. Players draw numbers to determine what order they will go in.  
    This can be done by drawing numbers from a hat, order of arrival to the event, or the order can be set by the organizer prior to the event.
  3. Players sit in a circle or line where they can see the gift pile.  
    Everyone should sit in the order in which they will take their turns.
  4. The first player selects a gift from the pool and opens it.  No hiding your gift!  Everyone needs the opportunity to see it.  
  5. The following players can choose to either pick an unwrapped gift from the pool or steal a previous player’s gift. Anyone who gets their gift stolen in this way can do the same – choose a new gift or steal from someone else.  A present can only be stolen once per turn, which means players who have a gift stolen from them have to wait to get it back. This rule doesn’t apply at the end of the game. 
  6. After all players have had a turn, the first player gets a chance to swap the gift he or she is holding for any other opened gift. Anyone whose gift is stolen may steal from someone else (as long as that person hasn’t been stolen from yet). When someone declines to steal a gift, the game comes to an end. NOTE: For this last “extra” turn, the swap rule from step 5 doesn’t apply. Players can keep swapping until someone decides to stand pat, or there are no other eligible people to steal from.

Sound like fun?  It is!  But let’s take a look at what makes a good White Elephant gift? It can meet one or all of the following criteria:  Funny, Weird, or nice.  

For the organizer, here are some tips: 

  1. Communicate – Make sure all guests attending are aware of the gift giving game and make sure they know to wrap their gift prior to arrival
  2. Set limits – Help your guests out by providing a monetary limit such as $5 or $10.  This keeps the game light and fun for all.  
  3. Allow for enough time for the game.  – It’s no fun to be rushed at the end, that’s when the game gets good!

So where did this game originate?  Well, I checked out Wikepedia and here is the answer: The term white elephant refers to an extravagant, but impractical, gift that cannot be easily disposed. The phrase is said to come from the historic practice of the King of Siam (now Thailand) giving rare albino elephants to courtiers who had displeased him, so that they might be ruined by the animals’ upkeep costs. While the first use of this term remains a matter of contention among historians,[4] one theory suggests that Ezra Cornell brought the term into the popular lexicon through his frequent social gatherings as early as 1828.[5]  

Explanation provided by http://www.secretsanta.com is as follows:
The game derives its name from the term white elephant as defined by something of dubious or limited value or an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others. Thus, in its basic form the game calls for people to bring “gag” gifts or gifts they received that they have no use for.

I hope you all enjoy your holiday celebrations with co-workers, family and friends!  Happy gift giving!

Try a mocktail…

So many times at holiday parties there is a lot of alcohol served, but where does that leave those of us who don’t drink or even the littler ones that are attending and can’t partake of alcoholic beverages?  Mocktails are a fun way to ensure everyone is included in the festivities.  Here are a few quick recipes to ensure that all of your guests have a great time.  

Cranberry Fizz:

Ingredients:

3 ounces of ginger ale, 3 ounces of cranapple juice, splash of lime juice, 3 tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp of cinnamon completely blended, fresh lime

Instructions:

Combine the cinnamon and sugar in a shallow bowl and mix together well.  Rub a lemon or lime around the rim of your glass and then dip into the sugar/cinnamon mix.  Fill the glass with ice.  Add then cranapple.  Add a splash of fresh juice of lemon or lime. Top off with sparkling cider or ginger ale.  Garnish with a twist of lime. 

No-jito (A mock mojito):

Ingredients:

1 tbsp of sugar, small bunch of mint, 3 limes juiced, soda water

Instructions:

Muddle the sugar with the mint leaves (this can be done in a small bowl using the end of a rolling pin if you do not have pestle and mortar)

Split the mint mix between two tall glasses.  Ad a handful of crushed ice to each glass.  Split the juice of three limes between the two glasses.  Top the drink off with soda water, add a straw and serve with a sprig of mint on the top for garnish.

NOTE: For fun you can add a few blueberries or raspberries to each glass.  This adds some fun color and a little extra flavor to your drink. 

Fun holiday recipes – Caprese sticks

It is fun to create colorful holiday snacks for a party.  Here is a great recipe that can be served as a snack, an appetizer or even as a side dish if you choose.  It incorporates the red and green colors of Christmas and is super easy to make.  This recipe was found on https://www.delish.com/

Ingredients:

8 oz. mozzarella balls 2 tbsp., extra-virgin olive oil 1 tsp., Italian seasoning 1/4 tsp., crushed red pepper flakes, salt, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil leaves 1 c., balsamic vinegar

Instructions:

  1. In a small bowl, stir together mozzarella, olive oil, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper flakes, and season with salt. Set aside. (NOTE: if you or your guests are sensitive to spices, the crushed red pepper flakes can be left out of this recipe)
  2. Assemble skewers: Layer a cherry tomato, basil leaf, marinated mozzarella ball, and another cherry tomato. Place on your serving platter. (NOTE:  It is always fun to use herbs from your garden, here is a great opportunity to use that basil you have been growing all year.  If not, this can be purchased at your local grocer)
  3. Make balsamic glaze: In a small saucepan or skillet, bring balsamic vinegar to a low simmer. Let thicken until syrupy, 15 minutes. Set aside to cool and thicken. (NOTE: double or triple your recipe to keep some aside for later use.  This is a great glaze and always good to top a salad.  It’s great to have these things available for quick use)
  4. Drizzle skewers with balsamic glaze and serve. (NOTE: you can make these caprese sticks as large or as small as you want depending on the size skewer (or toothpick) you select) 

 

Fun holiday recipes – Bacon Cheese Ball Bites

This time of year there are so many holiday parties and we run out of ideas of fun things to bring or what to make for the parties we are hosting.  Here are a few fun ideas to change up your holiday party planning.  

Easy grab cheese ball bites:

Ingredients:

8 slices bacon (1 1/2 oz.), (8-oz.) blocks cream cheese, softened, shredded cheddar cheese (You can also use a mixture of cheeses for a different flavor), garlic powder 1 tsp., paprika, Salt, Freshly ground black pepper, freshly chopped chives 1/3 c., finely chopped pecans 1/2 c, pretzels sticks

Instructions:

  1. In a large nonstick skillet, cook bacon until crispy, 8 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate, then finely chop. Set aside. (NOTE: If you make extra, you can always freeze the cooked bacon and pop it in the microwave later.  It’s usually easy to just make the whole bacon package.)
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together cream cheese, cheddar cheese, garlic powder, and paprika and season with salt and pepper. Use a scoop (some sort of small spoon works) to form mixture into 18 small balls and transfer to a parchment–lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until firm, 1 hour.
  3. In a shallow bowl, stir together bacon, chives, and pecans.
  4. Roll balls in bacon-chive-pecan mixture, insert a pretzel stick into each, and let come to room temperature 15 minutes before serving. (If not serving right away, loosely cover with plastic wrap and return to fridge.)  (NOTE: So many times you can exchange a toothpick for a pretzel stick for a fun and yummy way to serve your appetizers or treats.)

……. This recipe was found on Delish.com  

Snacks for the beach (or a hot day in the sun)

It’s summer time, that means road trips, days in the summer sun and fun!.  It can be expensive to get snacks while you are out and about so here are some easy and fun ideas for treats as you play.  We all work up an appetite and the summer sun can drain us.  Take advantage of a little pre-planning to pack your snacks and enjoy your day without breaking the bank.

Ranch-Seasoned Spice Crackers

INGREDIENTS:

1 ounce dry ranch seasoning mix

3/4 cup vegetable oil

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

5 cups oyster crackers ( 9 oz bag)

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat the oven to 250F.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, ranch seasoning mix, garlic powder and onion powder. Whisk everything together and add in the oyster crackers. Toss everything together until the crackers are coated.  Spread the crackers out onto a baking sheet.  Pop the baking sheet of crackers in the oven for 20 minutes, stirring at the 10-minute mark. Remove from the oven and let cool.  Keep in an airtight container or separate into snack size baggies for an on-the-go treat.

Chex-Mix

INGREDIENTS:

3-1/2 cups Rice Chex

3-1/2 cups Corn Chex

2 cups Wheat Chex

1 cup peanuts (you can also use 1 cup of mixed nuts)

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons seasoned salt

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup bite-sized pretzels (I like the pretzel sticks broken in half)

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Combine ingredients for Homemade Seasoned Salt in small dish then set aside.  In a very large bowl combine Rice Chex, Corn Chex, Wheat Chex, and nuts. In a small bowl stir together butter, Worcestershire sauce, 2 teaspoons seasoned salt garlic powder, and onion powder. Pour butter mixture over cereal mixture then stir with a spatula to coat. Pour into a 11×17″ or larger baking dish then bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Stir in pretzels when Chex Mix is cool, then serve! Keep in an airtight container or separate into snack size baggies for an on-the-go treat.

Salt and Pepper Oven-baked Zucchini Chips

INGREDIENTS

1 large zucchini, sliced into rounds about 1/8″ to 1/16″ thick

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (recommended: kosher salt or coarsely ground sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

RECIPE PREPARATION:

Preheat oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Use convection bake setting if your oven allows.  Place sliced zucchini on paper towels and let sit for 10 minutes. Blot the tops of the zucchini with another paper towel to absorb as much moisture as possible.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and place the zucchini on the pans in a single layer, making sure not to overlap.  Pour olive oil into a small bowl and lightly brush onto the zucchini.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Place in oven and bake for about 2 hours, flipping zucchini after about an hour, until zucchini is crispy and starting to brown. Start checking them at about 1-1/2 hours in as ovens can vary. Any pieces that are crispy and starting to brown should be removed.  Serve immediately!

 

 

 

Happy Fourth of July, Celebrate safely

Happy Fourth of July! As we gather our families and friends to celebrate our nation’s holiday let’s remember to use caution and be safe. Below are some easy safety tips to follow and share.

  1. Obey all local laws regarding the use of fireworks. Know your fireworks; read the cautionary labels and performance descriptions before igniting.
  2. A responsible adult SHOULD supervise all firework activities. Never give fireworks to children.
  3. Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save your alcohol for after the show.
  4. Light one firework at a time and then quickly move away.
  5. Use fireworks OUTDOORS in a clear area; away from buildings and vehicles. Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water. Always have a bucket of water and charged water hose nearby.
  6. Dispose of spent fireworks by wetting them down and place in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day.
  7. Never carry fireworks in your POCKET or shoot them into METAL or GLASS containers.
  8. Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.

And let’s not forget the safety of our pets!

  1. Don’t bring your pets to a fireworks display, even a small one.
  2. If fireworks are being used near your home, put your pet in a safe, interior room to avoid exposure to the sound.
  3. Make sure your pet has an identification tag, in case it runs off during a fireworks display.
  4. Never shoot fireworks of any kind (consumer fireworks, sparklers, fountains, etc.) near pets.

Extra tip for pet owners: I personally have two very very small dogs and loud bursts of sound terrify them. During holidays and celebrations that include fireworks, we like to leave the tv or radio on a little louder than normal close to their sleeping quarters. This provides for constant sound, drowns out some of the noise from fireworks, and helps to reduce the stress of the random bursts of noise.

Easter isn’t just for the little ones… it is a family affair!

Don’t let the fun of Easter fade just because your little ones are growing up.  This season try a new twist on the Easter holiday if you have slightly older kids in your home.  If you are planning an Easter dinner, you are of course going to spend a little on grocery shopping and that will take time.  or maybe you are planning on eating out as a family.   Well, I propose a little something different.  Take that cash you will spend and hide it in the little plastic eggs you can buy at the dollar store.  Send your kids on a fun (potentially long) egg hunt and this one could include a scavenger hunt if you have older kids.  If you prefer not to do the plastic eggs, than just make it a scavenger hunt where each clue leads your kids to a cash prize and closer to the finale where they will find out the location of dinner (and the fact that the cash is what will pay for the dinner!)  That’s right…. dinner is on them this year!

If you are a softy like me, you will of course have their Easter basket for them at the family dinner or at the final clue location so there are candy and treats to be enjoyed, but the fun can be had for older children as they figure out the clues and race through the yard as they did when they were younger hunting for eggs.  Below are some examples of great clues:

  1. If you’re in a hungry mood, go here first and find some food.
  2. Now you’re on your second clue, these go on before your shoes.
  3. If you want your teeth to shine, pick this up and spend some time.
  4. Take a walk and step outside, this is where you go to ride.
  5. I used to write to send a letter, but now this machine does it better!
  6. Rubber ducky your the one!  You make ______ lots of fun!
  7. Hickory Dickory Dock, The mouse ran up the ________!

There are so many more you can come up with.  You can google “Scavenger Hunt Clues” and the lists are endless or come up with your own to include the fun places in and around your house.  Use a theme, rhyme, or make fun jokes.  Have fun and make it interesting.  This can be a fun tradition your children will look forward to each year.

On a side note, have you ever wondered about the history of the Easter Egg or the Easter Bunny?  What are they and where did they come from?  Well here is a quick history lesson for you as we hop into the holiday and hunt for our eggs.

The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and rebirth. In Christianity it became associated with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.[102] The custom of the Easter egg originated in the early Christian community of Mesopotamia, who stained eggs red in memory of the blood of Christ, shed at his crucifixion.[103][104] As such, for Christians, the Easter egg is a symbol of the empty tomb.[14][15] The oldest tradition is to use dyed chicken eggs, but a modern custom is to substitute decorated chocolate, or plastic eggs filled with candy such as jellybeans.

The Easter Bunny is a popular legendary anthropomorphic Easter gift-giving character analogous to Santa Claus in American culture. Many Americans follow the tradition of coloring hard-boiled eggs and giving baskets of candy. On Easter Monday, the President of the United States holds an annual Easter egg roll on the White House lawn for young children.[105] Since the rabbit is a pest in Australia, the Easter Bilby is available as an alternative. Easter eggs are a widely popular symbol of new life in Poland and other Slavic countries’ folk traditions. A batik-like decorating process known as pisanka produces intricate, brilliantly-colored eggs.

The celebrated House of Fabergé workshops created exquisite jewelled eggs for the Russian Imperial Court.

I hope you enjoyed the quick little lesson and I certainly hope you plan on trying a scavenger hunt or something fun with your family this Easter.  As always, have a happy day!

It’s time for cookies

I love love love this time of year!  There are so many reason to be happy and spread the cheer.  Cookies are one of the top things on my list to do each year.  I love to bake and I love sharing fun cookies with my friends and family.  This year will be no different.  Cookies are coming out of the oven this weekend.  I thought I would share a few of the recipes that my family has enjoyed over the years and encourage you to jump into the kitchen yourself.  If you are not much of a baker but have always wanted to, baking cookies is a great way to start.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

½ cup shortening

14 cup granulated sugar

12 cup brown sugar

18 teaspoon salt

12 teaspoon vanilla extract

12 teaspoon baking soda

1 Tablespoon Hot Water

1 14 cups flour (all-purpose)

12 ounces chocolate chips

12 cup nuts (optional, but if you prefer I suggest pecans)

1 egg, well beaten

Instructions:  Cream shortening then add granulated sugar, brown sugar and egg.  Dissolve baking soda in one tablespoons of HOT water and then add.  Add flour, salt, vanilla extract and mix well.  Add nuts and chocolate chips and mix again.  Drop teaspoonfuls of your cookie dough onto greased cookie sheet. (Note the change from Tablespoon to teaspoon size measure for these cookies, they will spread) Bake at 350 degrees about 10 minutes.

German Chocolate cookies

Cookie batter

2 boxes German chocolate cake mix, dry

4 eggs

10 Tbsp. butter, melted

FROSTING

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

½ cup butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1⅓ cup sweetened shredded coconut, for drizzle

1 cup chopped pecans

Instructions: Combine cake mix, eggs and melted butter in a large mixing bowl and beat until well mixed. Batter should be sticky and thick.  Roll into one inch balls and place on lightly greased cookie sheet. 12 balls to a cookie sheet. (Try using a Tablespoon Measure as a scoop to keep your proportions)  Bake at 350 for about 8 minutes. DO NOT overcook these cookies. Place on wire rack once they are out of the oven and let them cool completely. (Add frosting to completely cool cookies to avoid melting your frosting and having a drippy mess)

Frosting Instructions:  Add evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter and vanilla to a large pan and place on stovetop over medium heat. Stir to evenly combine and continue stirring until thickened (takes about 12 minutes). Once thickened remove from heat and add coconut and pecans. Beat until thick enough to spread. Spread frosting over the tops of cooled cookies.  You can always add an extra touch by melting some chocolate and drizzling over the tops of the cookies.  Before packaging, let the cookie set-up so the drizzle can cool and the frosting can stay thick.

Snickerdoodles (My Daughter-in-law’s favorite)

Ingredients

1 Cup (2 sticks) Unsalted butter

2 Cups Granulated Sugar

2 Large eggs

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour

½ tsp Baking soda

½ tsp Cream of tarter

¼ Cup Sugar (separate from the above amount of sugar)

1 tbsp Cinnamon

Instructions:  Combine butter with 2 Cup Granulated sugar and beat on medium speed until well creamed together.  Add eggs and vanilla extract. Mix into butter and sugar until egg is well beaten.  In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar.  Slowly add into batter and beat on medium low speed until well combined and dough forms.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate dough for 1 hour.  Preheat oven to 350° F.  In a small bowl, combined cinnamon and a ¼ Cup granulated sugar and stir to combine.  Use a Tablespoon to measure your cookies proportionately and scoop cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Roll each cookie dough ball in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place about 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350° F 10-12 minutes. Allow cookie to cool on the baking sheet for several minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Oatmeal Raisin (My husband’s favorite)

Ingredients

¾ Cup Granulated Sugar

¼ Cup firmly packed brown sugar

½ Cup Butter

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 Egg

¾ Cup All-Purpose Flour

½ Teaspoon Baking Soda

½ Teaspoon Cinnamon

¼ Teaspoon salt

1 ½ Cups of Quick-cooking rolled oats

½ Cup Chopped nuts (Walnuts work great in this recipe, but nuts are optional)

Instructions:  Pre-heat oven to 375°F. Spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray. In large bowl, combine sugar, brown sugar and margarine; beat until light and fluffy. Add vanilla and egg; blend well. Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well. Stir in oats, raisins and nuts.   Use a Tablespoon to measure your cookies proportionately and scoop cookie dough onto a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Roll each cookie into a ball prior to setting the dough on the Parchment Paper, and set each cookie about 2 inches apart.   Bake at 375°F. for 7 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool 1 minute; remove from cookie sheets and transfer to a wire rack to continue cooling.

Peanut Butter Thumbprint

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup creamy peanut butter

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour (Stir the flour and then scoop it, so it’s not packed into the measuring cup/spoon.)

1 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 Bag of Hershey Kisses

Instructions: Cream the butter and sugars together in the bowl.  Add the peanut butter, egg, and vanilla. Mix well and scrape the bowl.  Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to the butter mixture all at once and mix well, but don’t go overboard.  You just need the ingredients combined.

CHILL dough for 2 hours in fridge. (This keeps helps keeps the dough in good form rather than melting into a flat cookie)  Scoop dough and shape into balls, about 1 rounded Tablespoon each. Place 2-inches apart on silicone lined baking sheets. (Use a Tablespoon as a scoop, this will help with your proportions)  Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8 to 9 minutes. Remove from oven. Immediately place a single Hershey Kiss in the center of each cookie while still warm. Let the cookies sit on the tray for about a minute while the Hershey kisses set, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Here a few tips I’ve either read about recently or learned along the way:

Start your recipe with cold butter. It takes longer to soften in the mixer, but warm butter makes the cookies spread too much.

Refrigerate the dough before baking or you will have flat pancake cookies. 30 minutes is good enough, but an hour would be great.

If you are doing a “great cookie bake”, (baking several different types of cookies for sharing).  Try to make all of your cookies the same size.  Using a Tablespoon for measuring is a great way to help your portion control.

Use parchment paper rather than a greased cookie sheet.  This will help is you are using several different recipes or baking a lot of one type.  Unless you clean your greased cookie sheet between each batch, you may end up with severely cooked grease on your pan and a funny taste on the edges of your cookies.  You can toss the parchment paper after each batch and ensure a smoother trend across all of your cookies.

Use butter instead of margarine.  I promise, it makes a difference.  If you choose to use margarine, check the label and be sure it has at least 80% vegetable oil.

Happy Baking, Happy Holidays and as always, Have a happy day!

Enjoy shopping during the holidays

It’s officially December and holiday shopping is in full swing! If you are anything like me than you have the very best intentions for early Christmas shopping in the hopes of having this task checked off your Holiday “To-Do” list.  Though I do have the best of intentions, I always find myself, year after year, still shopping during December for my entire family.  There is just something about shopping for others during the holiday season that is just more fun.  The deals and sales are fun to find.  The glitter and sparkle of the holiday decorations in the stores and the hustle and bustle is fun to be a part of.  So, here I am yet again embracing the month of December as my holiday shopping month.  I thought I would take a look at a few ways to keep myself organized and hopefully not end up overwhelmed the day or two before Christmas.  Here are my top five helpful tips to help make the most of your holiday shopping by having fun, saving some cash, and not becoming crunched for time.

1.       Make a list of everyone you need to shop for.  Figure out who you will be celebrating with all month long and add them to your list.

2.       Put dates next to your names on your list.  Will there be a secret Santa for your company holiday party that you need to have a gift for by the 17th?   Is there a neighborhood Christmas party that you need to have an extra bottle of wine on hand to give the host?  Checking your calendar while you make your list will help alleviate the “OMG” moments of realizing you forgot a friend or relative on your list

3.       Plan for extras.  Leave a few blank spaces on your list labeled male, female, girl, and boy.  These will allow you to have a few general gifts on hand in case someone shows up unexpectedly.  Scented candles, lotion, pocket, scarves, blankets, and trendy toys are always great for these slots on your list.  (Just remember to make them things that will last or are useable by members of your own family in case you end up with the extra gifts under your tree at the close of the holiday season.)

4.       Set a budget and make it realistic.  This may seem like a tall order, but if you generally have an idea for gifts for the people on your list, write down a monetary value next to their names and help yourself come to a total once your move thru your list top to bottom. 

5.       Plan your shopping days.  Set aside time to actually go shopping and not be rushed.  Are you more comfortable shopping a few hours a week in the evening or would you more enjoy a full Saturday shopping extravaganza?  This is YOUR time to enjoy the gift giving experience.  Finding great items that you know will put a smile on a loved one’s face.  In your scheduling, remember to schedule some treats for yourself.  A great cup of coffee and a biscotti mid-day, or maybe a nice dinner during the week after you wrap up your shopping.  Spoil yourself a little and ensure that you keep the happy festive holiday mood throughout the month.  

There are a few other things I like to do to get and stay in the Holiday Spirit all month long.   Here are a few of those little things that make me smile almost daily. 

1.       Playing Christmas Music.  No, I’m not 24/7 holiday music kind of lady, but the days that
I’m shopping or maybe late in the evening, It’s so peaceful and calming to listen to. 

2.       Plan to watch your favorite holiday movie and if you can’t then record them for when you can.  My favorites are a Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, and of course Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

3.       Dress comfortably, but festive.  When I’m shopping, I like to keep in style, but comfort is important.   I love to wear high heels, but on a full day of shopping, flats and a comfy sweater is perfect.  Also, I change my purse to a backpack purse or cross body purse.  There is nothing more annoying that having a bunch of bags to carry and trying to keep your purse on your shoulder as you pick them up and set them down. 

4.       Do a little decorating all season and if you enjoy wrapping gifts, don’t wait till the last minute.  Turn on some Christmas music and do a few a week or on the weekend.  It will make your tree look complete, help you to feel a sense of accomplishment and start to make little minds wonder what is in their box.

I hope this helps you to enjoy your holiday preparations this season.  The most important moments are those with family, friends, and enjoying the peace that is in our hearts.  Have a happy day!

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